The Torah in Parashat Teruma describes the construction of the Mishkan, which was a wooden structure covered by a series of flax curtains (26:1-6). These curtains were then covered by a “tent” made from goatskins (26:7-13), which was itself covered by a layer of rams’ skins, and an additional layer made from the skins of an animal called the “tachash” (26:14).
Rashi (25:5), based on the Gemara (Shabbat 28b), comments that the tachash was an especially colorful animal which had never before existed, and never existed again. It came into existence, Rashi writes, specifically at that time, when Benei Yisrael constructed the Mishkan, and for this very purpose. There was never such an animal before, and it never returned afterward. Rashi further comments (again, citing from the Gemara) that Targum Onkelos translates the word “tachash” as “sasgona,” which represents the phrase, “sas u-mitpaer ba-gevanim shelo” – the tachash “rejoiced and took pride in its colors.”
What might be the significance of the peculiar nature of this animal, whose magnificent colors adorned the exterior of the Mishkan?
Rav Yitzchak Eizik of Spinka, in his Chakal Yitzchak, suggests that the Gemara here addresses the problematic nature of what he calls “hitpa’arut” – outward displays of extravagance and glory. The tachash, as mentioned, is described as rejoicing over and taking pride in its magnificent colors, and its colors adorned the outermost layer of the Mishkan, lending it a spectacular appearance. Normally, the Chakal Yitzchak explains, such outward extravagance is inappropriate. We are discouraged from calling attention to ourselves through an unusually “glittery” appearance. As a result, we should not be like the tachash, flaunting our special “colors” and putting our unique talents and achievements on display. The tachash’s existence was exceptional, because the “bright colors” and “glitter” that it represents should be the exception, rather than the rule. Magnificent, eye-catching displays are appropriate only for the “Mishkan,” when they serve to enhance a mitzva and bring glory to God. We are not to follow the tachash’s example and proudly display our “colors” except when this brings honor to God, instead of to ourselves. God left the tachash out of creation, so-to-speak, because as a general rule, we are to specifically avoid the kind of public display symbolized by this creature. It is only when such a display serves a sacred purpose, enhancing the Mishkan – our mitzvot, thereby bringing honor and glory to the God – that we ought to emulate the glory and majesty of the tachash.